Like it, or not, the American brand is synonymous with food all across the globe. ‘Made in America’ is a powerful form of branding in China, particularly when it comes to America’s reputation for ‘fast’ food. There has been a revolution in the middle kingdom in terms of how exported US culture is received. The Chinese have now embraced many ‘Americanisms’ and have a seemingly insatiable desire for American products with food outlets arguably the greatest US success stories here.
The key is that these American food outlets have already catered for the mass market in the states, they were already geared up for mass-market production in this way. China has presented an even larger market (in terms of the scale of the country and size of the population) with these fast food giants rising to the challenge.
Foreign products provide a change from traditional Chinese food and thus have a more ‘exotic’ feel, change. In China, there is an increasing demand for foreign food products following a series of food scandals surrounding recycled oils, contaminated milk, and fake, low-quality food types.

Here are six brands and why they are successful in China.

KFC

The sizeable Chinese middle class of over 400 million people has a real appetite for American fast food. KFC has proved to be the most successful American chain with over 4000 stores opened across China. It is a well-known fact that KFC is more successful here than McDonald’s, KFC has 3 times as many stores but what is the key to their success? Firstly the Chinese strongly desire fried chicken, they seemingly prefer the KFC, deep south style flavors to burgers. They have also developed the most Chinese-specific menu, thus successfully incorporating Chinese eating habits into the brand. The company has also rolled out an extensive series of promotions with an emphasis on discount vouchers and coupons, the Chinese are greatly attracted and influenced by offers such as this.

Hershey’s Chocolate set to conquer China

Hershey’s recently bought ‘Golden Monkey Food’, one of the largest chocolate and candy companies in China.  In China, they are still a relatively small player-facing Nestle and Ferrero (who control about 70% of the chocolate and confectionery market)  but with this acquisition, they hope to drastically increase their market share. The company has launched a product range called Yo-man, inspired by the success of ‘White-Rabbit’, a condensed milk candy manufactured by another Chinese company. 90% of the company’s business still comes from the US, but the goal is to grow its international sales by 25% with China as they key target.

Mcdonald’s

McDonald’s is the world’s leading fast-food outlet, it opened its first Chinese restaurant in Shenzhen in 1990, there are now over 1500 restaurants in the Middle Kingdom. In recent years, Mcdonald’s has been a huge success, at their peak opening a new restaurant every day in China. The concept of ‘fast food’ is particularly apt in hectic, modern China which has been developing at light speed, consumers appreciate the efficiency and speed of the service as their lives become busier, especially in the growing urban centers.

Subway

The American sandwich brand entered China in 1995 and now has 200 outlets across the country. Fred DeLuca, the founder of Subway, aims to open 500 additional Chinese stores with the chain already well established in the cosmopolitan centers of Beijing and Shanghai. Subway is a private company and they thus have more freedom and flexibility to adjust their strategy, this (according to the founder) is an advantage encouraging expansion in China. One reason for the success of Subway is that the stores are franchised, owners are provided help and support from the brand whilst running the business themselves. To satisfy Chinese demand Subway also provide Chinese-style menus that are adapted for different regions, this shows respect and incorporates local culture into the brand’s identity.

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Burger King

The fast-food brand entered China in 2005, today there are 161 stores throughout the country. Burger King has intelligently partnered with the Cartesian Capital Group to develop its brand in China. With this joint venture in mind, they desire to open 1,000 new stores in the next five years. The fast-food giant aims to develop a new, Chinese-specific strategy to “move forward” and conquer the most populous country in the world. Burger King target young Chinese consumers as they are more individualistic and seek to express their identity through their consumption choices. In some stores in Beijing, space is dedicated to music with the latest western hits played and headphones provided. An art gallery to exhibit Sino-US artwork has even been developed, Burger King is proving that an innovative and different approach in China is required.

Oreo Kraft

Kraft decided in 2005 to study the Chinese market, their analysis showed that the Chinese were not historically big cookie eaters. Chinese consumers traditionally love the sweet and sour contrast but the cookie was too sweet and not very bitter. The company changed its recipe specifically for China with very positive results. They reduced the levels of sweeteners to cater to the Chinese taste and reduced the size of the packaging. Thanks to this reform and such astute observation of Chinese tastes, the Kraft company has proved a success in China with sales tripling since the alterations were made.

American food companies are well established in China but face certain challenges that they must overcome. The Chinese are increasingly demanding more foreign food products, if you have a food-based product that you wish to sell in the mysterious orient do not hesitate to contact us! We are a specialist marketing agency that can help western brands adapt their strategies to succeed in China.

  1. For more information on our agency see here.
  2. See our previous article on British Brands in China.
  3. See our previous article on Australian Brands in China.
  4. Our Twitter
  5. You can also read our Strategic Guide to Export Food Brands in China

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3 Comments

  1. KFC in China is far from the KFC in the Western countries , the chicken pieces are tiny and tasteless compared to the real thing , Oreo is also a tasteless brand with little selection compared to European, Australian, similar products , Same as Hershey’s, they are not popular in Europe or Australia where they have Cadbury to compete with a far better quality chocolates and amazing varieties and again much cheaper , Chinese pay very high prices for chocolate as they don’t make quality chocolates themselves they have nothing to judge by unless they go overseas, then they wont choose Hershey again.
    Subways are a good product but many close all over China , Chinese do not support them , Star Bucks does very well with the cashed young Chinese more the posing value than the product which is the most expensive in the World , as a foreigner even I refuse to pay up to and over 30 yuan ! for a cup !! that’s AUD$6.50 ! I can buy great latte in Australia $3.50.
    Western food companies don’t understand that Chinese have a different palate to them . I learn t that when i took a group of Chinese to a great Italian restaurant I actually found here in Foshan , amazing buffet with 10 courses of top quality dishes , half the students said they liked it half said it was terrible ,I was shocked ! the Chinese love hot pot ! , a boiling pot of water you drop bits of meat and veg into, the meat comes out like white rubber, I find it tasteless where the Chinese around me are all smiles commenting on the taste? , hence I came to the conclusion ” we are tasting different things on our palate , hence any Western food products who wish to do well in China do your taste tests first as so many close down all over China only after a few months , Chinese bread is soft over bleached and full of sugar , a French baker opened here with great crusty bread , rolls, sour bread and wonderful cakes , it closed down after one desperate year trying , I have seen 7 Subways close in the last year and that is actually a good product , well to my western palate.

  2. There are American brands all over China. It is impressive to see the number of Mcdonnald and KFC in China. The majority of the food brands that has the biggest success in China are Fast Food. Generally, it’s because the brands are super known even if it costs a lot more than the local small restaurants.

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